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UK employment market may be prone to forced labour, says report

The regulatory framework of the UK's employment market has made it susceptible to exploitation and forced labour, according to a recent report from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The report claims that domestic structural weaknesses within the 'overarching dynamics' of the global economy have created gaps in which individuals can become trapped into forced labour by human traffickers and unscrupulous gangmasters.

'Light touch' business regulation and immigration labour policies have helped to push vulnerable people into the informal economy where they are easily exploited, the authors said.

In addition, the high proportion of the workforce in low-paid or temporary agency work, or in jobs at or near the minimum wage have made a ready pool of people who can be exploited in this way, it added.

Self-regulation in certain sectors and lack of enforcement of labour standards has formed a sense of impunity for rogue employers, the report said, and created a situation where labour supply chains can be manipulated.

Examining the construction industry, food sector and illegal cannabis-growing operations, the report uncovers how money is made using forced labour.

Profits are generated by minimising costs through very low pay and failure to provide basic rights such as pensions and sick pay. Workers are sometimes charged for additional services, including visas, travel expenses and accommodation. Sometimes they have been put into debt for the price of being smuggled to Britain and are forced to work to pay it off.

According to the Global Slavery Index, the UK is reckoned to have more than 4,200 slaves - defined to include those held in debt bondage, forced marriage, and by human traffickers.

Some 1186 people were identified and referred for support from human trafficking last year, a rise of 25 per cent from 2011. The Modern Slavery Bill, due to be introduced next year, is the Government's response to the problem, consolidating into a single act the offences used to prosecute slave drivers.

Among the report's recommendations was a call for businesses to take more responsibility where 'informality intersects with the formal economy'. For instance, local businesses should make moves to get rid of 'informal recruitment grounds' that allow recruiters and other intermediaries to operate 'quasi slave markets on the high streets of the UK'.

Acas can help your organisation with many compliance issues, including with Agency workers, and through bespoke training and advice offered by its Workshops, projects and business solutions service. Practical training on Recruitment will ensure that your organisation is fully compliant with the latest employment legislation.

Visit the Acas Training Courses, Workshops and Projects area for more information.

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